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Fare crashes, site chokes

- SpiceJet offers 10 lakh seats for Rs 2013

New Delhi, Jan 11: Low-cost carrier SpiceJet today triggered an all-out price war by offering 10 lakh seats at an all-inclusive price of just Rs 2,013 on all direct flights to the 39 domestic destinations it flies to every day.

The booking window is open for three days and the cheap tickets are meant for travel between February 1 and April 30 a period that the airline industry dubs as the slack season.

“The scheme offers an opportunity for travellers to fly at (prices) lower than train fares,” SpiceJet CEO Neil Mills said, emphasising the point that the airline had come up with the offer barely a day after the railways raised ticket prices across the board by 8 to 20 per cent.

The “Big Sale” offer — which the airline tweeted at 7.45am — whipped up a storm in the industry and sparked a mad scramble to book cheap tickets on the airline’s website.

“Have thoroughly vasoolofied that Spicejet offer,” tweeted Amit Panhale. “Booked all travel due in the period. That is three trips and six tickets. Saved thousands.”

Akshay Badkar tweeted: “Spicejet creates havoc in office today !!! :D Everybody books ticket to Goa!! :D. But Not me..”

Others raged as the Spicejet booking window closed down within a few hours.

“Marketing gimmick,” said Noopur Jhulka. “Site is down if you try to book. Can’t book via @cleartrip and @makemytrip shows most expensive fare for same.”

The airline’s officials said the scheme had already started paying dividends as a number of flights have been sold out while others have just a few seats left.

The airline currently operates 330 flights daily to 39 Indian cities and six international destinations.

The SpiceJet promotional offer comes in the wake of similar schemes like the ‘Jaldi Jaldi’ offer launched recently by Air India.

There was no immediate response from low-cost rival Indigo to the cheap ticket offer but people comparing fares said the airline had cut prices on some routes. “Indigo matching SpiceJet sale on some routes: It turns out price warrior SpiceJet is not alone,” tweeted someone who uses the rubric “Live From A Lounge”.

There was no official confirmation on this. “As per market requirements, we will continue to offer consistently low airfares,” said the Indigo spokesperson.

The airfare for a Delhi-Mumbai flight booked a day before travel is usually around Rs 8,500. The ticket price usually hovers around Rs 4,500 a fortnight before travel date under the dynamic pricing buckets that airlines adopt.

Major travel websites such as Yatra.com said the number of hits on their website trebled in the afternoon. “We were not able to handle the excess traffic caused by the price war and we had to temporarily close down the SpiceJet and Indigo counters,” said Pratik Mazumdar, head of marketing and strategic alliance at Yatra.com

The SpiceJet website was down for the most of the day and consumers who logged in late found a message: “Our online booking site is currently experiencing heavy traffic. Please try again later.” Late at night, the site could be accessed.

A few travel websites like Expedia.com were able to handle the sharp spike in bookings. Said Manmeet Ahluwalia, marketing head, Expedia India: “We have witnessed a definite surge in the total traffic on our website since the low airfare promotion went live. We are well equipped to handle such high traffic days, especially during promotional offers, discounts and festive season rush.”

After receiving a good response to its promotional offer last November on domestic flights, Air India launched a special all-inclusive promotional return fare scheme on its international flights.

In early 2011, SpiceJet and Indigo were locked in a bruising price war that prompted full-service airlines like Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines to approach the government and demand curbs on predatory pricing.

There was, however, one sobering voice that was drowned by the euphoria over the cheap tickets. “The one rupee madness of Air Deccan killed the airline. People never learn from the past,” tweeted Captain Mohan Ranganathan.